In 2018, Special Interest located the middle ground between no wave and Nina Simone. The quartet’s debut album, Spiraling, began with a song—tough, anthemic, guttural, and glammy—called “Young, Gifted, Black, in Leather.” Evoking Simone’s Civil Rights Era anthem and the cool cultishness of their VHS-referencing band name, “Young, Gifted, Black, in Leather” fittingly opened with the High Priestess of Soul herself: “I want to shake people up so bad that when they leave a nightclub where I performed, I just want them to be to pieces,” goes the sample, and then the band follows in Simone’s high stakes. “The law is on my back/Every night,” Alli Logout shouts out. “The law is on my back/That’s why we fight.”
In this current moment of razing systems and exposing histories, Special Interest is attuned to the future. “We are on the brink of a major collapse of everything,” Logout said in a 2019 interview. “I think what we are doing speaks to that. I want complete, total destruction of everything.” Perhaps when Logout screams “trust no wave” on “Young, Gifted, Black, in Leather,” it meant just that: Trust that your impulse towards destruction is for a reason.
The Passion Of is the sound of art-punk, industrial, ambient, techno, and glam imploding on themselves. It’s vicious and physical, blistering at the edges of Maria Elena’s serrated guitars, Nathan Cassiani’s bass playing, and Ruth Mascelli’s blown-out synths and cavernous drum-machine beats—The Passion Of is made of sparks. Logout’s holler can pivot from playful to taunting to gnarled to vulnerable in an instant, and their pen is consistently ablaze, whether writing about sex and longing at end times or gentrification and the militarization of cities. The second track is a scorcher called “Disco III,” a ferocious blur of pain and ecstasy in the lawlessness of night, examining “sodomy on LSD!” “Disco III” follows Spiraling’s “Disco” and “Disco II,” which says a lot. At the core of their careening, rattling, irreverent noise, Special Interest honor and channel the Black and gay legacies of dance music and infuse them into their 2020 vision of punk as possibility.
The animating “NO” of punk hits different with Special Interest: “What happens when there’s nothing left to gentrify and genocide is on your side?” Logout yelps in syncopated shouts on “Homogenized Milk,” describing the violence of such uprooting. Special Interest’s chaos is twisted but clear, a blustering push forward, asking inexhaustible questions, notably on the mesmerizing technoise banger, “All Tomorrow’s Carry.” It’s another lucid narrative of gentrification and displacement, about partying with an eye to the police state: “I watch the city crumble/Arise from the rubble/Another tawdry condo,” Logout observes in a cold post-punk speak-sing. “But would you bat an eye/Waiting for war machines to pass you by?” This is the horror of real life that many choose to overlook. Special Interest insist that you see it.
The whole of The Passion Of seems to take place after dark, in the shadows, but it burns red. Amid the ugliness there is palpable joy and lust that embodies a liberationist ethos. “And I laugh/And I cry/Boo hoo hoo/Ha ha,” goes “Don’t Kiss Me in Public,” like turning the breadth of human feeling itself into an art concept. “A Depravity Such As This” is the record’s purest techno moment, a contorted buzzsaw banger of shrieked four-on-the-floor wreckage. And nowhere is the emotionality of The Passion Of more felt than the aching ballad “Street Pulse Beat,” as Logout describes pleasure out of reach: “I can’t take you there/Where desire unfolds,” they sing, “Maybe I don’t know myself/But to know you now I know.” “Street Pulse Beat” bears out a rare sensitivity; its punk build makes its infatuation, desperation, and noisy euphoria sound like a secret.
If there is a thread to this music, it is survival. That considerable power comes into granular focus on The Passion Of’s monumental closer, “With Love,” which roils like a siren call. Logout narrates the stark realities of navigating life in a Black queer body—of “our fathers in cages,” of “the legacy of poverty within me,” the tyrannies of a world in which “We can’t breathe/In the fantasy of freedom/Choked out from me”—before envisioning an abolitionist future, “to free the millions from the mass cages.” Amid the song’s shrill metallic roar is the “the sweet smell of the rot of society” giving way to “agency and honesty/Joy with autonomy” and “the bliss of infinite love.” They illustrate a world collapsed and reborn.
“The words I write that are bubbling inside of me could have been written yesterday or five years into the future,” Logout recently said in an interview. “They are not my own, they are from those I carry inside my DNA and from my friends I listen to, learn from, and struggle with.” In the lyrics to “With Love,” they quote the autobiography of activist Assata Shakur: “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” This insurrectionary song, and The Passion Of in full, heed Shakur’s revolutionary call. The song continues:
A glimmer of light through grief
Like from the deepest depth of the sea
We welcome you to join us
As our tongues bleed this decree
Lucid the veil we see
The spirits they stand with thee
With passion aroused we call
For tomorrow the people take all
By nature, punk offers a moment of ignition. But for Special Interest, there is also a horizon.